The sun goes down long and red. All the magic names of the valley unrolled – Manteca, Madera, all the rest. Soon it got dusk, a grapy dusk, a purple dusk over tangerine groves and long melon field; the sun the color of pressed grapes, slashed with burgundy red, the fields the color of love and Spanish mysteries. I stuck my head out the window and took deep breaths of the fragrant air. It was the most beautiful of all moments.
(Jack Kerouac, On the Road)
Growing up in California’s Central Valley, it often felt like I was in the absolute middle of nowhere. Miles of farmland surround my hometown of Manteca, California.
I was a bookworm when I was a kid. I spent my breaks from school with my nose in a book or roaming the Sierra Nevada Mountains with my family. As a teenager, I longed to explore the cities. I couldn’t wait to graduate from high school and strike out to see the world.
Just after I graduated high school and before I left my hometown for college in Santa Barbara, I picked up a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. When I read his lines about the “magic names of the valley,” it occurred to me that perhaps I had grown up in an interesting, romantic place after all. That was when I realized how much I loved California.
Flash forward to now. Until recently, I was planning on leaving California and moving to Portland, Oregon. Just before the move, some pretty big changes occurred in my life, and I decided to stay put. As much as I love Portland, I have to admit that I am relieved to be staying here in California.
I am living once again in my hometown and, much to my surprise, I love it here. The big sky. The pastel, dreamy colors of the farmed fields. The golden sun on cold, rainy days. I can see the poetry described by Jack Kerouac laid out before me, and I long to explore my childhood haunts with my adult camera.